'Fairytales are timeless': Chris Riddell on his favourite magical stories

Published on: 22 August 2018 Author: Emily Drabble

Chris Riddell is back with his first picture book in ten years, and Once Upon a Wild Wood is a real treat, retelling some of our favourite fairytales.

Chris came to BookTrust to talk to us about his new fairytale book Once Upon a Wild Wood - and why he's a bit of a Beast.

Find out what he had to say by watching the full interview video below, or scroll down to read a transcript.

Can you tell us what your new book Once Upon a Wild Wood is about?

Once Upon a Wild Wood is about a little girl, Little Green Raincape, who sets off one day through the wild wood, which is indeed full of trees, and meets lots of different characters along the way, and they each have particular issues they want to sort out. Little Green Raincape, Green for short, helps them out through the pages of the book.

Why did you want to make this book?

It's been ten years since my last picture book so I really felt now was a really good time to another picture book.

And I just love picture books! I love the way the pages turn, I love the way words and pictures work together in a picture book.

So after ten years, I was ready to do another one! And I love fairytales so I thought I'd do my take on some of my favourite fairytales.

Was writing this book an excuse to do all the drawings?

I'm an illustrator who only ever writes in order to do the pictures. When I think of a picture book, obviously what I think about are the pictures first! I always start with drawings of my characters and then I imagine the stories they might be able to tell me. Only then do I start the very, very difficult process of writing the words. That does take a lot of time and then I have lots of help from brilliant editors at my publishers, and once that is done I really enjoy doing the illustrations.

What is it that gets children excited about fairytales after all these years?

I love fairytales because fairytales are very special tales that can speak to the old and young at the same time.

Parents and children can share fairytales; they mean a lot to us in all sorts of ways. I think they're timeless and that's why they've lasted as long as they have.

I think we all have our own favourite fairytales, and for me I think my favourite is Beauty and the Beast. And that plays quite a big role in Once Upon a Wild Wood.

Why is Beauty and the Beast your favourite fairytale?

When I was little, I remember a wonderful version of Beauty and the Beast - it was one of the Ladybird fairytale retellings. I loved those books. I had Little Red Riding Hood, The Elves and Shoemaker and the Ladybird version of Beauty and the Beast. I always remember one of the last images, which is of the Beast lying among the rose petals, waiting, and almost despairing that Beaty might not return. That image meant a lot to me, and particularly the moment after when Beauty does return and saves the Beast.

Why do you think it's important to retell fairytales?

I think we all have our favourite fairytales and love revisiting the world of fairytales. In some ways, when I wrote Once Upon a Wild Wood, I wanted to explore some of the different characters and what they might be up to after the fairtytales they appeared in are finished, so the Seven Dwarves are in the Wild Woods getting into a little bit of trouble. The Little Pigs are still doing what the Little Pigs do, which is carrying out building repairs of various sorts. The Wolf is still wandering through the forest helping people he meets along the way, but possibly not helping them in quite the way you expect.

Why are fairytales so often set in woods?

I think the woods are a great setting for fairytales because they seem to be endless and you can get lost in the wild woods.

I think you can get lost in the wild woods the way you get lost in a story.

So I think it's a lovely metaphor for the way we enter stories and how we can lose ourselves in stories.

Which fairytale character do you most relate to?

Do you know, I think I relate mostly to the Beast! You can probably tell - a little bit furry round the edges, slightly scruffy possibly, but with a noble heart... I hope that comes across! I live my own fairytale because I'm married to Princess Joanna of Norfolk. That's a whole fairytale in itself, which I might write one day.

An image of the Once Upon a Wild Wood cover

Who do you think is the scariest fairytale villain?

I've always thought the scariest fairytale villain is Rumplestiltskin. Just saying the word 'Rumplestiltskin' - it's a great name, isn't it? And I think he's scary because at first it seems he is there to help and might solve the problems the princess has, spinning all that straw into gold. He seems as if he's helping out but he has another motive. Again, I remember a great illustration of Rumplestiltskin getting very cross and stamping his feet so hard that he falls through the floor.

Why do you think it's good for children to be scared by fairytales?

I think sometimes it's very nice to have a slightly scary fairytale that can make you pull the covers up under your chin as you listen to it.

Sometimes that's a nice feeling, isn't it, the slight feeling of chills when you listen to a fairytale.

But what I also enjoy is the fairytale endings, when things do work out well. In Once Upon a Wild Wood, I don't want to give anything away, but things do work out well in the end.

Will there be a sequel to Once Upon a Wild Wood?

I wrote Once Upon a Wild Wood because I felt a fairytale was all about turning the page as you go through the story - and right at the end Green is going to continue through the woods and each step is another turn of the page. Who knows what she's going to get up to next? I think I might be writing more about Little Green Raincape in the future!

Read our review of Once Upon a Wild Wood

Once Upon a Wild Wood is published by Macmillan. Chris Riddell is a BookTrust ambassador and was Waterstones Children's Laureate from 2015-2017 - see his book Travels With My Sketchbook to see what he got up to. Chris's book with Neil Gaiman Fortunately The Milk is part of Bookbuzz 2018.

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